Working Creekside

Back in April, I became aware of the Creekside Blues and Jazz Festival as I was looking to start marketing my services to bands. The festival organizers had helpfully published their list of bands with links to all their websites. I went to each of their sites, figured out their preferred contact method, and sent them a message. I offered to shoot their Creekside performance for a low festival rate, and I would throw in a group portrait at the festival for free if time permitted. I attempted to contact 22 groups. In response to that first blast, I got 3 yeses and one maybe (he’d have to check with the group). I checked back with the maybe after a couple of weeks, but didn’t hear back from him.

Six weeks later (two weeks from the festival) I sent another e-mail to those I hadn’t heard from, and in response I got one more yes. So, going into the weekend, I had four performances lines up as paid shoots. Though I had higher hopes for the success rate, as cold marketing goes, a 20% return is pretty darn good, I think.

I made sure that they understood that I was expecting half of the money up front, before I started shooting the performance, and that the other half would be due after they’d seen a sample slide show. I was really concerned I would get a response like “Yeah, sure, go ahead and shoot our band” from someone who really didn’t intend to pay. Fortunately, that didn’t seem to happen.

I had three bands to shoot on Saturday, and one on Sunday. I arrived pretty early so that I could get the layout of the festival and look for photographic opportunities. The sun was beating down causing most of the festival goers to huddle in the shadows on the edges of the performance spaces. This also meant that group portraits in this light would look horrible.

While waiting for my first gig, I decided to shoot a few of the other bands as a bit of marketing. I figured I’d make a few pics and send them to the band as free samples. So I grabbed a couple of Trombones Plus and Terra City Blues.

First up was Vernon Hairston Trio. I showed up in the performance area well ahead of their performance time, and was able to pick them out as they brought their gear to the stage preparation area. I introduced myself, chatted about what kinds of photos he would like (no strong preferences) and he handed me a check. Woot! So far so good!

I shot their performance all ambient. Fortunately, they had a translucent temporary stage roof/tarp over their heads. So the light on them was nice and even, and there were trees around 1/2 of the back of the stage, producing some really nice bokeh in the shots.

As soon as they were finished, I ran back to my car to pick up some portrait gear–extra flashes, light stands, tripod, etc–because Long Tall Deb and the Drifter Kings had asked to meet an hour before their performance to do the portrait shot. So I lugged all that stuff over to their stage (did I mention it was hot?) where I found Deb in the prep tent. Unfortunately one of her band members was going to be late, so they wouldn’t be able to do the portrait session today. But she did have cash ready!

After killing an hour, I came back to shoot Deb. She really likes to play up the “tall” part by adding some killer heels.

The stage for this performance was west facing with a black background. For me, this was perfect because I could expose for the performers (nuked by the hot late afternoon sun), and the background would disappear.

Deb and her guitar player clearly had a special relationship on stage. They were frequently jamming together, making “music moments” like this easy to capture.

There was a trio sitting behind my seat (where I plopped my camera bag) that would periodically get up to dance. They were great dancers who really knew what they were doing, and were really enjoying the LTD performance as well. I immediately noticed they were all wearing ear plugs like I was, which to me, said they were serious festival goers–sitting up front to experience the full force of the music. I handed them one of my business cards and encouraged them to send me an e-mail so that I could send them some pics. After we left the LTD performance, I noticed the wording on one of their shirts: No wonder they looked like the knew what they were doing. Today, I got a message and happily sent them a bunch of pics.

After my editing, I still had 130+ good photos from the 75 minute LTD performance. They were a real treat to shoot.

I had a long break until Capital Sound performed so I went to shoot a bit of the Sonny Moorman Group performance. The crowd had grown significantly since the beginning of the LTD performance making it a bit challenging to get to the front of the stage. But I had learned during LTD that even though most of the seats were taken, and a lot of people had filled in with their own chairs, the front rows were largely empty. So I made my way to the front like I knew what I was doing, plopped down my camera bag and started shooting. Experience and a bit of “I’m supposed to be here” behavior meant that I could walk into the “MUSICIANS ONLY” area with impunity so that I could get shots from the side of the stage.

I wandered around to watch a couple of other bands briefly, but didn’t shoot because they weren’t visually appealing to me. They were musicians, not performers, sitting on stage playing their instruments, with stoic faces of concentration +3. Bleh. Those don’t make good photographs.

I meandered back to the stage where Capital Sound was to perform. I’d been interacting via e-mail with Tyler, their drummer and organizer ever since my first e-mail solicitation. He had declined the portrait offer at the festival because he knew it wouldn’t be that great photographically (he’s right, of course). But he did want to pay me for a portrait session. We’ve been trying to work out a time for all 10 of us to get together, but that has been a bit of a challenge. Tyler and the rest of the band were gathering, and Tyler handed me a check for the full amount. He figured that would just be easier for him, and it seemed he trusted me to make good on the deal.

As Capital Sound was preparing to take the stage, I set up light stands and flashes near the risers for the temporary roof structure on either side of the front of the stage. The stage lighting was pretty good for the front row of performers, but sucked for everyone in back. So I knew ambient was not going to cut it for this performance, especially considering daylight was fading fast at 9:30PM.

“Fat Mike” paraded on stage with a young woman on each arm (his wife captured the moment with video on her point&shoot) at the beginning of their set as part of their stage shtick. Since these guys were intending to spend more with me, and had trusted me with their full payment, I really wanted to make good on the shoot. But capturing four horn players, either individually or together, is very challenging.

I camped out in the position to grab this shot for minutes at a time, waiting for a) them all to be playing, and b) all their faces to be visible, and c) for my finger to press the shutter fast enough to capture it.

I also really enjoy the challenge of capturing drummers. My ability (and determination) to capture drummers is one of the major facets of my work that sets me apart from “lead singers wife with a camera”.¬† This one was shot ambient because I wanted to capture the motion of his sticks. The real challenge is getting stick movement but not too much head (or worse, drums) movement.

ISO800 f/1.8 1/15s

I dearly love this shot.

I try very hard to not be obtrusive or a distraction when shooting a performance. My knees and butt are typically dirty after a shoot because I’m down low to stay out of the way of other spectators. Or I’m hugging against a wall, or I shoot as I walk¬† in front of the stage hoping to grab the composition but not stay in the way. Occasionally I can grab shots from behind the stage that turn out well, but I don’t do it frequently because my presence can be a distraction to the performers and the audience. This one of Fat Mike is another favorite from the day.

I love the lights on the brick wall and the smoke in the air. I love how the light wraps around him (flash on either side), and how the symbols help to frame him in.

I went home that night feeling like I’d done a good job and had definitely earned my fees.

Sunday at Creekside will have to be another (shorter, thankfully) post.